What happens when someone expresses to you their sincere appreciation for something you have done for them? It feels good, doesn't it? And because it makes you feel good, it makes you want to do it again.

This is why I think it is so important to express your gratitude any time a patient does you the great honor of inviting a friend or family member to your practice. It makes you feel good to acknowledge their trust and it makes the patient feel good to be recognized. It validates their original decision to recommend you and it makes them want to do it again.

Having said that, there are some ways of celebrating a referring patient's thoughtfulness that are particularly effective (keeping in mind, of course, the professional regulations in your state around giving patients gifts).

First of all, as we all know, personalized tokens of appreciation always mean more. I know some practices give out Starbucks cards to patients on birthdays or as referral acknowledgements. But how much does that really mean to the person who doesn't drink coffee? If you know something about the patient's interests – books, movies, music – let that knowledge guide your choice of gift. For instance, my hairstylist, remembering my stories of my diving trips, once presented me with a beautiful book on diving. I have never forgotten that. Trust me, the personalized attention will be noticed and appreciated.

One client I know sends a card and gift basket to the referring patient at their place of work. There are two reasons for that. Number one, it lets you express your gratitude right away, rather than wait until the patient's next scheduled visit. Second, as we all know, when a co-worker receives an unexpected delivery, it creates a buzz throughout the workplace. "Look at this," the recipient will be saying, "look at what my dentist sent me." Once again, that validates their decision to recommend you and makes them want to do it again. It also makes you the talk of the office for a while, and that kind of exposure never hurts.

The average person spends about $10,000 over 20 years on dental care. When you factor in that these new patients are potential inviters too, that represents a considerable gift you are getting. It's definitely a gift worth acknowledging in a thoughtful and encouraging way.